Cherry and Vanilla

Phil Snow had 9 months to prepare for the triple option and this is what he came up with?

In one of those offseason brain-storming sessions between fans and coaches, new Temple offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas reportedly told the group that he felt the Owls’ offense was “too stubborn” last season.

If last year was too stubborn, then just what was that 34,004 Temple fans were forced to watch in a 28-13 loss to Army on Friday night?


Glenn Thomas: Too stubborn

Last night might as well been the return of the Single Wing, with the Owls trying to force feed two things they do not do particularly well—run the ball straight ahead and throw the ball in the pocket.

Fight, fight, fight for the Cherry and the, err, Vanilla.

When you have a quarterback like P.J. Walker, you move him around the pocket and create the threat of run/pass. When you drop him back, you invite him to get killed and that’s just what happened.

Thomas gets an F for his first night as the new coordinator, but the real responsibility rests with the CEO of the operation, Matt Rhule. What worked for the Owls was the little rollout passes Walker was able to complete and the Owls should have counterpunched by going over the top for the long ball. Army’s defensive backs could not hang with the Owls’ wide receivers but those mismatches were never capitalized upon. Rhule is not blind. He has to take charge when he sees mismatches.


Too stubborn was as  good a reason as any, maybe too nice a guy the other.

Phil Snow also gets an F, but we outlined here that Snow has a checkered history against the triple option—giving up no less than 31 points in each of his last four of his last five tries against it. (The one exception was a 34-13 win in 2013.) Last night, he improved upon that by three but the Owls allowed 324 rushing yards. Again, the buck stops with Rhule because Wayne Hardin never lost to a triple option team in his 13 years at Temple a testimony to studying film and countering it well—with blitzes from the blind side blowing up pitchouts before they got downhill.

At times over the last three years, it looks as though Temple never even looks at film of opponents. Rhule likes to preach the process but it’s painfully apparent film study of opponents is not a valued part of it. Fordham scored 37 on Army last year and Duke scored 44 and allowed just three points. Might want to copy what Duke did on defense and Fordham did on offense.

A team that recruits NFL players, like Temple and Duke does, should never lose to a team that requires a five-year military commitment. Duke and David Cutcliffe got the job done. Temple and Matt Rhule and his crew did not.They had nine months to work on a game plan for this one-dimensional foe and impressed no one with it.

Monday: What’s New?



Game Week: Don’t Sleep On Cadets


For all of defensive coordinator Phil Snow’s accomplishments, and there are many on this last-go-round at Temple, an Achilles’ heel for him has been trouble defending the triple option.


That’s one reason why the Owls cannot sleep on the Army Cadets (7 p.m., Friday, Lincoln Financial Field). There are many more and we will outline those later in this post, but first let’s concentrate on Snow’s recent history against those teams. In three of the four games his teams have played against the triple option since 2010, his defenses have allowed those teams at least 31 points.

The reason for Snow’s problems have been simple. He stubbornly has played his base defense, the 4-3, against a speciality offense that requires a standard speciality defense. The way to stop the triple option is simple: 44 stack, nose guard over the center, the two A gaps (to the left and right of the center) covered by a tackle, eight in the box and force the triple option team to pass.

For some reason known only to God and Snow, he refuses to do that.

The most recent game was an abomination, a 31-24 loss to Navy played on a 92-degree day in September of 2014. (For those who say Navy was good that year, Western Freaking Kentucky—which I call WFK—beat them, 18-6. Their coaches found a way to stop the triple option.)  In 2012, while coaching Eastern Michigan, his defense allowed 38 points against the Cadets. Fortunately, the EMU offense bailed out the Eagles, winning that game, 48-38.  In 2010, his EMU defense allowed 31 points in a 31-27 loss to Army. The one outlier was a 33-14 win for Temple over Army in the 2013 game. The next year, though, the black-helmeted Owls sat back in the heat and waited for the triple option offense to attack them and often found themselves in 3-on-2 mismatches against a quarterback, fullback and pitch man. That’s how Navy won that game, 31-24.

Montel Harris, Nate Combs

Temple running back Montel Harris (8) talks with Army linebacker Nate Combs (22) in my favorite Temple-Army photo of all time.

After that game, I asked former Temple coach Wayne Hardin—who never lost to a triple-option team while at Temple (he did at Navy, but that was to No. 1 Texas in 1962)—how to defend it and he told me that the triple option leaves the backside unblocked for blitzes. If you have a particularly fast corner, you can give up the backside by blitzing him and blowing up the play before it starts. He said the one gamble is vulnerability  to the throwback pass (ala Adam DiMichele to Matt Balasavage for a score in 2007), but that happens so infrequently it’s worth the risk.

For some reason, Snow has refused to do that. Maybe the Owls will try it with 4.3 sprinter Nate Hairston on Friday night.

The other reasons why you cannot sleep on the Cadets are rather obvious. First, their toughness is unquestioned. They are literally on the frontlines for this country. In addition, they play a fairly challenging schedule and are often in games against so-called Power-5 teams. Last year, they lost to a very good Navy team by four, Penn State by six and Wake Forest by three.

They will not be intimidated by the Owls and the Owls have to strap their helmets on tight Friday night. Hopefully, those helmets will be Cherry or White, not Black.


Wednesday: Army’s Vanishing Problems

Friday: Depth Chart Thoughts and Predictions

Saturday: Game Analysis

Monday: What’s New?

Defense is in Good Hands with Coach Phil Snow

Any analytical look at the Penn State vs. Temple game film from a year can see a lot of foul-ups, but few were committed by defensive coordinator Phil Snow.

Sure, the Owls could have been more aggressive than the rushing three, cover eight, approach they used a year ago but does anyone really believe a call like that to be solely the propriety of the defensive coordinator?

I do not.

That’s a head coach’s call or at least probably was last year.

The Owls of this year might have a chance at lowering the 13.2 ppg mark of 2011.

The Owls of this year might have a chance at lowering the 13.92 ppg mark of 2011.

Snow did the best he could under that general game plan. If he has the influence I believe he has on the head coach, he will do his best to change that approach at least this Saturday against that particular quarterback. Expect a more attacking, not passive, Temple defense this Saturday and that is certainly the way to go against a relatively immobile quarterback like Christian Hackenberg.

If the Owls cannot get to Hackenberg with five, they should bring six. If they can’t get to him with six, they should bring seven. The whole defensive game plan should be predicated on putting him down.

Have the Owls learned their lessons from last year’s laid-back approach? Geez, you have to hope so. A clue as to how the team might approach this game plan came in the final moments against Tulane a year ago. This was the same Tulane team that beat Houston and a team that needed a touchdown in the red zone.


Instead of sitting back, Snow went after the Tulane quarterback with a blitz by linebacker Avery Williams. I’m sure he remembers how successful that approach was. If Temple goes down, it goes down with its guns blazing and not its hands up.


That should be the approach Temple takes against the Penn State offense. Snow’s job is to convince Matt Rhule that’s the right way to go on Saturday. He’s got enough street cred established to do it.

When Steve Addazio was here, he said Chuck Heater was the “head coach of the defense” and, for the most part, that worked out well. Giving Snow that kind of leverage on Saturday could not hurt.